Skip to main content

Full text of "The world's Lincoln"

See other formats


S. G. and E. L. ELBERT 


\m*txxhk hm _hja smite blbut ibb 
Jlit Jtfumriitut 















CIENTIFIC accuracy is, & right- 
ly, dear to the heart of the mod- 
ern historian; and yet, the more 
we study history, the more diffi- 
cult of attainment does it seem to 
be. When all the archives have 
been ransacked, and every document scrutinised to 
the last flourish of a letter, how little, we realise, is 
known of the literal fads after all, how much of high 
significance in chara&er and event has escaped the 
most patient investigation. No tale of things that 
a&ually came to pass on earth is ever even half told, 
and the stoutest record would seem hardly more 
than a marginal note if we knew all. 

And, scanty as our information maybe, how sel- 
dom are we sure that even so little is indisputable. 
Figures of distant ages, greatly notable in their day, 
and freely noted by the chroniclers, survive mostly 

i 5 

in very doubtful fidelity to the originals, and figures 
notable for all time are often indistind almost to the 
point of invisibility. Would it not seem to have been 
inconceivable that the supreme man of the modern 
world, Shakespeare, should within three hundred 
years of his death have been so completely effaced 
from biographical memory that the new and author- 
itative dating of any single moment in his life would 
make a scholar's reputation; that, indeed, there is acri- 
monious debate as to whether he ever existed at all? 
It may well be that we are content to know no more 
of him than is revealed by his work, but it is none the 
less a miracle that Shakespeare the man has become 
no more than a spedral surmise. 

But even where the witnesses have been diligent, 
more than much remains in obscurity. Boswell on 
Johnson and Pepys on himself tell us a great deal that 
is significant, but their copious notes leave untold 
more than they tell. It must inevitably be so. The full 
story of a man's life would take as long to read as to 
live, and twenty times as long to write. The amplest 
compilation of fads, say Lockhart on Scott or Moore 
on Byron, amounts at last to a slight and more or less 
fortuitous seledion. Far from being regrettable, this 
is fortunate; but it is a fad. 

If, however, it is remarkable that our knowledge 

i 6 J 

of a poet who lived three hundred years ago should 
be sparse and unreliable, it is far more so that there 
should be doubt and difficulty about the lives of men 
who were figures of close public attention within liv- 
ing memory. But such doubt and difficulty there are. 
Popular conceptions of great men who a generation 
ago were the staple of daily news, founded apparent- 
ly on secure evidence, are continually being chal- 
lenged, sometimes wantonly, sometimes in good 
faith. The virtues of common report were, it seems, 
but the cloak of sad infirmities after all; the loyalty 
was carefully disposed by self-interest; the chivalry 
was lewd at heart; the fortitude was arrogance; and 
the vision was false. All of which may be true, or it 
may not. The challenge, no doubt, is plausibly sup- 
ported; documents can be made to support anything 
if you have enough of them to choose from. Nelson 
possibly was a coward, and someone may have evi- 
dence up his sleeve to prove it. But the important 
thing is not the assurance that sooner or later truth 
will out, but that there comes a time when certain 
convi&ions are so firmly established that they be- 
come proof against any spe&acular revelations, be- 
come, that is, the potent truth itself, no matter what 
excavation of fads may threaten it. If a seled com- 
mittee of the High Courts of the world were to de- 

i 7 > 

cide on an impartial examination of the evidence that 
Nelson was a coward, we should laugh in their faces. 


No public man in the western world during the 
past seventy years or so has been more minutely ob- 
served than Abraham Lincoln. History hardly af- 
fords so striking an instance of a man taking on an 
epic significance while the daily habit of his life is still 
a matter of familiar recolle&ion. And yet already the 
story of Lincoln is the subjedt of historical disputa- 
tion. Not only is he the great American, the beloved 
symbol in which a nation of over a hundred million 
people sees itself exalted; he is also accepted by the 
world, or by the western world at any rate, as a states- 
man by whom office was dignified with an almost 
unexampled splendour of chara&er. Such a one, it 
might have been supposed, would have been present- 
ed to us with absolute authority, with an assurance 
of mood and feature that none could call in question. 
A man so deeply contemplated and so devoutly es- 
teemed must surely stand before us at least precisely 
for what he is, with no hesitancy of countenance or 
obscured definition. The more so when, as with Lin- 
coln, the records of all kinds are so plentiful and elab- 
orate. Photographers, draughtsmen, diarists, biog- 
raphers official and unofficial, state reporters, poets, 

i 8 > 

novelists, historians, generals and cabinet ministers, 
from all these we have a vast accumulation of testi- 
mony as to the very feature and charader of Lincoln. 
And the testimony is supplemented by an adive pop- 
ular tradition based largely on personal contads. The 
man who has already taken his place among the uni- 
versal figures was the friend of men still living, and at 
the distance of a single generation is in intimate asso- 
ciation with, I suppose, hundreds of American fami- 
lies. I have remarked elsewhere on the emotion with 
which a stranger may thus find himself within a step 
of the adual presence of a hero almost fabulous in 
stature, of Mr. Lincoln, as he still is in familiar con- 
versation. I myself have sat talking with his son 
in a room overlooking the Potomac, the river that 
was the material token of a division that went near 
to breaking the father's heart. In my copy of a book 
called 'Personal Recolledions of Abraham Lincoln' 
there is written the following inscription: 'The Au- 
thor, in his 83rd autumn, with tender, grateful, rev- 
erent memories, writes these lines for John Drink- 
water with the hand that often clasped Abraham Lin- 
coln's. Henry B. Rankin, Springfield, Illinois, Odober 
20th, 1919/ Mr. Rankin was in Herndon s law office 
at Springfield when Lincoln was a partner. In North 
Dakota I met an old man, physically & mentally alert, 

i 9 > 

who had been one of Lincoln's bodyguard for the two 
years preceding the assassination at Ford's Theatre; 
his lifelong regret was that he had been away on leave 
on the fatal evening, when who knows but what he 
might have given a different turn to American his- 
tory. And these experiences are common in the land 
where so short a time ago Lincoln came and went 
with all the frank accessibility of a democratic socie- 
ty. The evidence by which we know him is volumi- 
nous, precise, and vivid. From that evidence a figure 
has been created that has seized the imagination of 
mankind, and it is beyond all cavil a figure of truth. 
And yet the truth, this truth so commanding that it 
can never now be obliterated from the consciousness 
of our race, is at not rare intervals contested by eager 
investigators who hope by a myopic concentration 
on insignificant fads to discredit a larger verity than 
they know. Before considering what this verity is, let 
us for a moment see how these misguided enthusi- 
asts can vex themselves. 


Now and again I receive a pamphlet of Historical 
7<[otes by the courtesy of a Georgian lady who com- 
piles them. Miss Rutherford is a very industrious stu- 
dent, fearless in her zeal, and genuinely convinced of 
the justice of her cause. Which is to show that Abra- 

i io> 

ham Lincoln, far from being the fine fellow that we 
take him to be, was on the whole a pretty considera- 
ble humbug. Miss Rutherford is not the vi&im of ir- 
responsible prejudices; she is a patient gleaner of evi- 
dence, cherishing over-duly perhaps what should by 
now be a faded animosity, but reinforcing her con- 
clusions scrap by scrap, as tremulously persuaded as 
a Baconian or a Flat-Earthist. I should not presume 
to argue with Miss Rutherford; I susped that in any 
case argument is a region beyond which she has ad- 
vanced. And, further, I honestly resped the spirit with 
which she labours a forlorn hope. For it is that. She 
will never make the world believe that Lincoln was 
a humbug. The world has by this time elaborated its 
own truth about Lincoln, and this truth will never be 
made to square with Miss Rutherford's theories. 

I seled Historical l<[otes as an illustration of my ar- 
gument for the very reason that they are more con- 
sidered in design than is usual with such futilities; I use 
the word, I hope, without offence. Miss Rutherford 
calls her witnesses with a confidence that is not as- 
sumed, and she examines them adroitly to her own 
purposes. It is impossible to question her good faith. 
She gives her time and her energy, one may suppose 
a considerable amount of her means also, to what for 
her is a crusade against error. And she follows herin- 

i ii > 

spiration to remarkable issues. A recent pamphlet in 
her series is devoted to a contrast between the lives of 
Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln. The warmest 
admirer of Lincoln may still find much to resped in 
Davis, though with less, it may be, than the true 
Southern fervour. Whether a better man could or 
could not have been found for an office that must 
have been exading beyond almost any human pow- 
ers, the fad remains that Jefferson Davis fell short, 
and, as the event proved, disastrously short, of the re- 
quirements. But he had fine qualities of charader and 
considerable intelledual gifts. Like Lincoln, of an un- 
distinguished parentage, his family fortunes rose in 
his youth, and he became a prosperous slave-owning 
cotton-planter, who managed his estate with acumen 
and humanity. Marrying a daughter of Zachary Tay- 
lor, afterwards President of the United States, he him- 
self went into politics, and some ten years before the 
Civil War was given a post in the cabinet under 
Franklin Pierce. For a time, also, he was a soldier, train- 
ing at the great American military academy at West 
Point at the same time as Robert E. Lee, and served 
with no little distindion in the Mexican War of 
1 846. So that he was clearly a man of parts, one who 
in many of his enterprises was happy in crowning 
ability with success. As he showed in the great crisis 


of his life, he had a fortitude that may almost be said 
to have amounted to greatness, but he was not a great 
man in the construdive sense that would have been 
necessary for any leader who should bring the South 
through to the establishment of a desperate cause. 
Unlike Lincoln, who always chose the best man for 
service irrespective of personal considerations, Davis 
was continually swayed in his choice by affedions 
and antipathies, and, although this may have indi- 
cated personal loyalty, it meant, since Davis was a 
very imperfed judge of charader and susceptible to 
flattery, continual political & military instability that 
ended in disaster for the South. Above all, Davis had 
none of the personal magnetism that could sway the 
ardours of a people in revolution. He was a recluse by 
habit, scholarly, introspedive, neurasthenic. He was 
a brave patriot, with an acutely analytical mind, but 
he had none of the genius necessary to inspire leader- 
ship in a great adventure. His fatal defed, indeed, in 
such a man at such a time, was a complete absence of 
the adventurous spirit. The Southern material was 
magnificent, but it needed heroic magnetism of the 
first order to dired it. Such magnetism was found in 
Lee's military command of the Virginian army, but it 
was not for a moment present in Davis's control of 
Confederate policy and strategy as a whole. One of 

{13 J 

the supremely tragic aspeds of the Confederate story 
was, indeed, the sub jedion of Lee, who had it, to Davis 
who had it not, and Lee's superb forbearance in a sit- 
uation of the deepest irony. 


That is the impression of Jefferson Davis left af- 
ter an impartial study of records. It is easy to under- 
stand Miss Rutherford's tenderness for the man who 
after all was the nominated leader of a cause that went 
splendidly to failure, and suffered so profoundly him- 
self in its overthrow. It is easy also to sympathise with 
her and those who feel like her. To recognise Davis's 
limitations is not to fail in appreciation of much in 
him that approached nobility. But for his friends to 
contrast him with Lincoln is an incomprehensible 
blunder in advocacy. For Lincoln, the Lincoln that we 
know and that the world will always know, was great- 
ly eminent in the qualities that Davis lacked. This has 
now been decided by a consensus of opinion against 
which it is no longer of any use to appeal. The whole 
story might have been written differently, but it has 
in fad been written so,and it is too late to alter it. Not 
all Miss Rutherford's sagacity nor anyone else's can 
rob us of the Lincoln that time has already shaped for 
the encouragement of mankind. She may call her wit- 
nesses with the nicest preparation, but she will con- 

\ 14 J 

tinue to call them in vain. Here they parade before us 
in Historical J^otes Volume II Number 2, and the evi- 
dence that they give the court is as follows. 'Lincoln 
was a traitor to the constitution/ We need not be too 
hard on that, remembering what the prejudices are. 
But these: 'He never answered a dired question, but 
always evaded it.' 'He was naturally envious.' He was 
'cruel and vindi&ive.' 'His cunning amounted to gen- 
ius.' 'He did nothing for mere gratitude & forgot the 
devotion of his warmest friends as soon as the occa- 
sion for their services had passed.' 'He had no rever- 
ence for great men.' And then, triumphantly, 'His 
views of human nature were very low,' and 'He had 
no heart.' 

These opinions, it may be observed, are not ad- 
vanced by Miss Rutherford as her own at random. 
She endorses them, her whole objedt being, indeed, 
to make them current; but they are drawn from her 
survey of acknowledged authorities, among them 
Herndon, Lamon & Seward. None of these was, per- 
haps, wholly candid in representing Lincoln, or shall 
we say perspicuous. Herndon loved his law-partner, 
but he had a somewhat befuddled if generous mind, 
and was not a notably sensitive judge of chara&er. 
Ward Hill Lamon knew Lincoln well so far as he 
knew him at all, but he was unaware of the deeps and 

horizons that have gone to the making of a world-sto- 
ry. 'Eater and drinker,' Mr. Carl Sandburg calls him, 
'with a swagger of a pi&ure-book swashbuckler out of 
a pirate story, but a personal loyalty of tried fighting 
quality.' The moods in which Lincoln had no use for 
him, when he was withdrawn into speculation that his 
vivid young companion — Lamon was Lincoln's jun- 
ior by nineteen years — could not share, would read- 
ily be accounted to vanity, spiritual gloom, some- 
thing formidable even to the point of ' vindi&iveness 
and cruelty.'Seward was an accomplished gentleman, 
who once he had tried a fall with his chief served him 
loyally as Secretary of State, but there was always the 
lurking disappointment that not he but an uncouth 
small-town man from the obscure west was Presi- 
dent. He behaved, once he had pulled himself togeth- 
er, very well about it, but it is no matter for surprise 
that a tell-tale word should now and then slip out in 
private talk or correspondence, or even in notes made 
for future use. So that Miss Rutherford's witnesses, 
even in her own court, might be hard enough pressed 
incross-examination.The significant thing, however, 
is that it is from these very sources, and from others 
of the same nature, that the Lincoln of common ac- 
ceptance has been evolved. Herndon & Lamon and 
Seward and the rest of them may no doubt in care- 


fully seleded detail be quoted to any purpose, but if 
we take their testimony without seledion, as we 
ought, we find that the only purpose that it can by 
any means be made to serve is utterly removed from 
Miss Rutherford's. The world has made its own fig- 
ure of Lincoln, as it does of every great man. In do- 
ing this it may have disregarded or been unaware of 
aspeds that such scrutiny as Miss Rutherford's may 
discover, but this is of no consequence. In literal fad 
Lincoln was doubtless as far short of perfedion as 
other men, but the blemishes that he had in com- 
mon with his fellows do not concern us. Intelledual 
preciosity sometimes pretends that candour desires 
to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but 
the truth about its heroes. I dissent. The peccadillos 
and infirmities of the great may make entertaining 
and harmless gossip; it may even be amusing to 
some to know that Dr. Johnson affeded dirty linen. 
But dirty linen on Dr. Johnson is of no more interest 
than it is elsewhere, and to see some profound signi- 
ficance in his choice is to see what isn't there. The Dr. 
Johnson that matters does not include the dirty lin- 
en, & to insist upon it in the name of truth is in that 
name to make oneself a prig. We all know that in 
Lincoln's nature there must have been furtive little 
corruptions, since he was human. But we can dis- 

i 17 > 

pense with information on that score, it being so 
much more readily to hand in ourselves if we want it. 
But there was something in Lincoln also that is never 
readily to hand, that is manifested only at long inter- 
vals in the affairs of men, something that was very 
well known to Herndon, Lamon, Seward and the 
others, something that from their records is now 
firmly fixed in the world's mind forever. Not from 
their records only, for while the figure that we know 
may take no account of trivialities that being true 
were yet of no advantage to the truth that matters, it 
is none the less founded on reality. And that reality 
comes to us by reports that were conceived not fan- 
tastically, but under the discipline of the original him- 
self It is important to remember this. The figure that 
we know may not coincide in all respedls with the or- 
iginal of literal fad, but it has been fashioned from re- 
ports, written and oral, upon which that original had 
on the whole impressed itself faithfully. If, as we say, 
Miss Rutherford's witnesses & others had said in the 
main the sort of thing about Lincoln that she sele&s 
for her purpose, we should be justified in supposing 
him to have been little better than poor white trash. 
But in that case our universal figure could never have 
come into being.The fad is, however, that the witnes- 
ses did not say this sort of thing in the main; they said it 


exceptionally. What they said in the main was some 
thing as far removed from this sort of thing as possi- 
ble. And for saying it their authority was Lincoln. In 
other words, the veritable Lincoln was himself the 
chief collaborator in the Lincoln that the world now 
accepts. We may not know everything, but we know 
all that we need to know, and we are confident that 
what we know is truth. And we are not enlightened 
by learning that Lincoln too could stumble. We did 
not suppose that it could have been otherwise. But 
the Lincoln who means so much to us is notable for 
his firm gait. Let us see who this Lincoln is. 

The publication of Mr. Carl Sandburgs Prairie 
Tears has, I think, for the first time given Lincoln his 
full epic stature. Not quite this, perhaps, since Mr. 
Sandburg calls a halt in his story, temporarily it is to 
be hoped, at the point where his hero was ele&ed to 
the Presidency. But otherwise, here is a final answer 
to all Miss Rutherfords. Here we see what is the effed 
of an illimitably painstaking study of every available 
scrap of evidence upon a finely creative mind pledged 
to the truth. To have read this book is not merely to 
agree with it, but to know with certainty that a story 
so passionately explored and told cannot by any per- 
verse ingenuity be attributed to error. This indisputa- 

i 19 t 

bly is the truth. And it is truth of a loving and mag- 
nificent asped. 

Abraham Lincoln, born of pioneer parents on 
February 1 2th, 1 809, in a log cabin with a dirt floor 
at Hodgenville, Kentucky, grew up in an environ- 
ment at once stark and romantic. Almost from baby- 
hood he had to pay his shot by incessant and heavy 
manual labour, picking up a little elementary educa- 
tion at a school that was a log hut like his own home. 
The Lincolns had to win their living dire&ly from 
the earth; favourable weather meant a wooden bowl 
regularly filled, a bad season meant hunger and pen- 
ury. When he was seven years old, the boy Abraham 
moved with his family to Little Pigeon Creek in the 
newly chartered territory of Indiana, and here a foot- 
ing was hewn and lopped out of virgin woodland, an- 
other log home built, and the larder supplied with 
game from the countryside until the scantling farm, 
granted with clear title by the government at two dol- 
lars an acre, could begin to show its yield. The next 
year Abraham's mother, known to history as Nancy 
Hanks, died, & two years later his father had married 
again, bringing a widow, Sarah Bush Johnston, to pre- 
side over his precarious little establishment and look 
after his two children, whose numbers were now aug- 
mented by three of her own by her first marriage. Her 

<{ 20 J 

name is a fragrant memory in the story of Abraham 
Lincoln. As he came on to man's years and some- 
times fell adreaming at his work, it was she who told 
them to let Abe go his own way as it was like to prove 
as good a way as another's. Not that his dreaming 
made any serious inroads on his efficiency, but the 
frontiersmen of a new world are strangely intolerant 
of oddness, and to his hard-driven companions the 
young man who sometimes went mooning about 
seemed a little odd. For the rest, he was a natural born 
hand-worker, with a lean whipcord physique that 
could easily hold its own in any work or horseplay 
that was on hand. He could be gentle, but he was nev- 
er soft. The humours of that pioneer society could 
take a rough, sometimes even a cruel turn, and there is 
nothing to show that he was more squeamish than 
the others, though he had a sense of fair play to tem- 
per extravagance. Nothing of a bully, he never de- 
clined a challenge if he thought the odds were any- 
thing like level for the other fellow; & he was willing 
enough to interfere in any quarrel if he thought a 
crooked deal was on. He began to read, walking twen- 
ty miles out & home again to borrow a book. Friends 
in distant parts of the territory encouraged him, and 
Aesop, Defoe &Bunyan became his friends. Also he 
studied arithmetic; then history. He began to be em- 


ployed on errands that took him far away from Tom 
Lincoln's cabin, trading along the Mississippi River 
down to New Orleans, where he saw slave-gangs be- 
ing dragooned in handcuffs, with consequences that 
were some day to be written indelibly on the history 
of the United States. By the time he was twenty Abra- 
ham Lincoln was an athlete who feared no comers, a 
graduate in the rigours of necessity, & more travelled 
than most in his station of life. He had, further, ac- 
quired enough book-learning to give him a name 
among his folk for being 'peculiarsome.' 

As he grew to maturity, the vast middle-west of 
which he was a native was teeming with the fertility 
of a new world. The spread of population and the as- 
sembling of races, the organisation of finance and the 
coming of the railroads, the ramifications of slavery 
and abolition, the drama of men and women looking 
westward into the wilderness and eastward to old civ- 
ilisations, the quarrels of politicians and the visions 
of statesmen, these were matters that absorbed the 
grown boy's mind. Then he found a copy of The 
Constitution of the United States, and with it sundry 
other documents concerned with Law. Another trip 
to New Orleans, & further opportunity for meditat- 
ing on the sale of human beings, and in 1 83 1 we find 
him, independent now of home & family, serving in 

a store at New Salem in Sangamon County, Illinois. 


Here he at once acquired a reputation for integrity 
and force of character, and was soon a conspicuous 
figure in the little township. He was fighting hard 
with life, terribly determined to keep square with his 
conscience. When he gave a woman customer in the 
store six and a half cents short in change he walked 
six miles in his own time to repair the mistake. Here 
he led a company of volunteers as Captain against the 
Indians in the Black Hawk War. His men fought hard 
but told him to go to hell when he gave orders off 
the field. And it was here that he met and loved Anne 
Rutledge, was engaged to her, and watched her die of 
fever, a girl of twenty-two whose name has taken on 
a lyric beauty for ever, a beauty exquisitely captured 
by Edgar Lee Masters in — 

Out of me unworthy and unknown 
The vibrations of deathless music; 

I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath 

these weeds, 
Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln, 
Wedded to him, not through union, 


But through separation. 
Bloom forever, O Republic, 
From the dust of my bosom! 

As she was dying, says Mr. Sandburg, Lincoln rode 
out to her farm. 'They let him in; they left the two 
together and alone a last hour in the log house, with 
slants of light on her face from an open clapboard 
door/ The memory of that hour was a sorrow that 
never lost its passion. 

It was in New Salem too that Lincoln first began 
to take part in local politics, and found, in a heap of 
rubbish, a copy of Blackstone's Commentaries on the 
Laws of England, with the results that he got him- 
self ele&ed to the Illinois Legislature, and became a 
lawyer. In 1837 he opened a law office in Spring- 
field on a capital of seven dollars, and in debt to the 
tune of another thousand that he had borrowed 
from friends, who thought him peculiarsome but had 
a faith that somehow he would pay them back, which 
he did. 

For twenty-three years he lived in Springfield, 
prospering in his profession, becoming more & more 
talked of as a personality, sometimes ele&ed for the 
State Legislature and sometimes defeated, and for a 
time serving as Congressman at Washington. When 

he first went into the town he was tough in fibre, 
properly ambitious, notable as he joined any com- 
pany, and as likely to become President of the United 
States as the curate of the church down the way is to 
become Archbishop of Canterbury. It is said that he 
told friends with some seriousness that he intended 
to go to the White House. Doubtless some thous- 
ands of young men had the same intention. But it is 
an impressive thought that at all times, even to-day, 
while the thousands are cherishing this illusion, two 
or three of them will thirty years or so hence prove 
against all the odds that it was no illusion after all. It 
is like a sweepstake; in a million people someone has 
got to bring off a million to one chance. If Lincoln did 
make the boast, he was going to be justified, but in 
1837 and for twenty years after there was not the 
smallest probability that he would be. 


And yet the Springfield days were an ordered pro- 
bation. The imaginative, which is not the fanciful, 
mind, contemplating Lincoln's place in history, is apt 
to see the man coming forward from obscurity to di- 
re<5t his country's fortunes at a supreme crisis. In a 
sense it is true of Lincoln as it is of Cromwell that the 
hour made the man, and the imagination is rightly 
moved by ordinances so unexpectedly asserted. The 

elevation of men like these, at a sudden call, from nar- 
row local influence to national power may well seem 
to be divinely appointed, and is a theme that has al- 
ways stirred the poets. But close investigation gener- 
ally reveals a preparation which, if it was by no means 
likely to lead to such an event, was necessary if the 
event was to be possible. And so it was with Lincoln. 
The obscure pioneer politician whom we see emerg- 
ing from the recesses of Illinois in i860 to take con- 
trol at Washington, & after five years of authority to 
make an end leaving a name sweetly memorable for 
ever, may assume the chara&er of a god out of the 
machine. But if so, he comes fully armed with experi- 
ence patiently acquired during those twenty years on 
the Springfield circuit. His mind has been disciplined 
in pra&ical knowledge of law and institutions, in de- 
bate, in understanding the needs of a hardy young 
community spreading with startling rapidity over a 
vast continent. He has learnt, too, a great deal about 
men, how to suffer fools at least until he is sure that 
nothing can bring them to a sense of their folly, how 
to accommodate difficulties, how to respedt the oth- 
er point of view, and how to tell honesty from feign- 
ing. Above all, he has already accustomed his heart 
to the charity for all that is presently to be his last and 
loveliest challenge against darkness. 


It was at Springfield that Lincoln married Mary 
Todd, he then being thirty-three years of age. That 
his heart was ever greatly in the enterprise we may 
doubt,but Mary Lincoln could help her husband with 
sound advice on occasion, and displaying herself as 
she believed to much advantage at the White House, 
has taken a less conspicuous place in history. At her 
best she encouraged Lincoln to a belief in his own 
powers; at her worst she was unable to wear out his 

The man ele&ed by the Republican party to the 
Presidency in i860 had a few months earlier made 
his appearance before an audience representing the 
culture and intellect of the east. At Cooper Union in 
New York some fifteen hundred people assembled 
while a snowstorm swept over the city, and were as- 
tonished when a gaunt, uncouth man, inches over six 
feet in height, dressed in no fashion, with enormous 
feet and terribly conscious of his hands, stepped on to 
the platform. If this was the possible candidate pro- 
duced by the West for supreme office, it must be al- 
lowed that he was a very strange one. Culture and in- 
tellect were almost inclined to titter in spite of good 
breeding. Think of the Mayflower: lines of long de- 
scent. Think of Mr. Seward. But as Mr.Lincoln went 
on speaking Mr. Seward seemed to matter rather less. 

The mildly disdainful curiosity gave place to startled 
admiration. Intellect and culture needs must salute a 
sincerity so convincing, needs must see themselves 
transfigured in such homely logic, such native digni- 
ty. This man, authentically, was prophesying before 
them. As he made an end, the great audience forgot 
its decorum and surged up to the speaker in waves of 
enthusiasm. A new and grandly incalculable person- 
ality had come into the national life of America; had, 
indeed, come into history, with brief but imperish- 
able annals to be told. 


Of Abraham Lincoln's Presidency this is not the 
place to attempt even a summary, still less may we 
debate the political and martial agony by which it 
was conditioned. Seen in perspe&ive, heroic resolu- 
tions always have the appearance of sublime simpli- 
city; to the participants at the time they are entan- 
gled often in a network of intrigue that hampers if it 
does not destroy the heroism. Never have the con- 
fusion of motives & the shocks of interest been more 
violent than they were in the American Civil War, 
and Lincoln, as all other public men, was charged 
with every kind of malice and duplicity. His distinc- 
tion lay in the fad: that in common circumstances 
he condu&ed himself in no common way. For the 

shrewdest political wits his own were an easy match, 
but he never allowed the unlovely necessities of of- 
fice to impair his native candour or harden his native 
tenderness. Under every trial he remained truthful 
and generous. With exceptional opportunities for 
discovering what human harshness and perfidy could 
be, he never lost his faith in human goodness. Called 
upon daily to deal with complicated abstractions, he 
reduced them steadily to bare and intimate essentials, 
the larger figures of rhetoric having no attraction for 
him. Placed at the head of a great people, he thought 
of them always in terms of individual men & women. 
And so he is remembered, after all the smother has 
passed, simply as the man who saved the American 
Union, and in the process abolished slavery. Even 
those, if there are any, who question the ultimate wis- 
dom of these achievements, cannot deny their great- 
ness. He is remembered also as a man who, conduct- 
ing a nation through a shattering crisis, remained 
warm, accessible, a friend to anyone who cared to ask 
for his friendship. 


Lincoln was a very great man, and was conscious 
of his power and quality; but he never behaved or 
thought of himself as The Great Man. He had come 
through too vigilant a school for that. The stories of 

his solicitude for others are many. I will tell one that 
I picked up, not, I think, told in print before. Early in 
the war when he was paying a visit to an army hos- 
pital, he came across a young soldier convalescing 
from wounds. The boy told him that he was going 
on leave for a fortnight, during which he hoped to 
marry a girl to whom he was engaged. Three years 
later a commanding officer called for a volunteer to 
take a dispatch through dangerous country to Lin- 
coln at Washington. The same young man offered 
to go, and getting through safely was admitted at the 
White House. Lincoln took the envelope and, look- 
ing for a moment at the messenger, turned away be- 
fore opening it and stood staring out of the window, 
searching his recolle&ion. Then he turned again 
with 'Did you marry the girl?' That was the Presi- 
dent of the United States in 1 864. The conjunction 
of such grace with such eminence is our clue. 

Lincoln's power came to its maturity in a time of 
war, and although the course of the struggle and the 
issues involved have now emerged in an outline up- 
on which disagreement is scarcely possible, this war 
was in its time, like all other wars, mired in almost 
indescribable muddle and apparent futility. The end 
and the means to that end may always have been 
clear to Lincoln, but before the end was reached he 


had to lead a hundred discordant energies through 
weary months, even years, of confusion. Often he 
seemed hardly to be leading them at all. His minis- 
ters, his generals, his political managers, the press — 
among all these were to be found patriots who were 
convinced that Lincoln was a fool, and that the prob- 
lem was how to make his folly as inoperative as pos- 
sible. Late at night he calls with his Secretary of State 
on McClellan, then Commander-in-Chief. McClel- 
lan is out. They wait, and at length the general re- 
turns, out of humour, hears that the President is wait- 
ing for him, and goes straight to bed. Lincoln returns 
home, and his Secretary remonstrates with him. It 
seems to Lincoln not to be a time for 'making points 
of etiquette and personal dignity.' He adds: C I will 
hold McClellan's horse if he will win me victories/ 
But casual, even vacillating as he may have seemed 
in such incidents, Lincoln all the time was nursing 
his resolves and consolidating his principles. He saw 
everyone who called at the White House, chiefly, 
as he said, because 'Men moving only in an official 
circle are apt to become merely official — not to say 
arbitrary — in their ideas, and are apter and apter 
with each passing day to forget that they only hold 
power in a representative capacity.' Often his visitors 
came to join in the chorus of disparagement, but not 

€3 J > 

always. Mr. Nathaniel Wright Stephenson, in his 
admirable book on Lincoln, tells us of one who called: 
'a large, fleshy man of a stern but homely counte- 
nance and a solemn and dignified carriage, immacu- 
late dress, swallow- tailed coat, ruffled shirt of faultless 
fabric, white cravat, and orange-colored gloves.' Look- 
ing at him Lincoln was somewhat appalled. He ex- 
pected some formidable demand. To his relief the im- 
posing stranger delivered a brief harangue on the 
President's policy, closing with: 'I have watched you 
narrowly ever since your inauguration. . . As one 
of your constituents I now say to you, "do in future 
as you damn please, and I will support you." 

And what none of his critics realised was that, in 
spite of their inve&ive, reinforced often by double- 
dealing, Lincoln was all the time moving in his calm, 
spiritual deliberation, doing as he did damn please. 
For there are two characteristics that we have clearly 
to realise if we would understand Lincoln. The first 
is at the very heart of his essential greatness. A lesson 
that history teaches us with unwearying patience, 
and one which is yet unheeded by many adtive mem- 
bers of society, is that the truly great man is not the 
extremist, however devoted his courage or pictur- 
esque his personality may be. The rebels have their 

€3 2 > 

honour in the world, and rightly. Their cause is oft- 
en enlightened, and they serve it often with a loyalty 
that is reckless of self-interest, a loyalty, it may be 
noted, which may be no less staunch when the cause 
happens to be a readionary one. The Die-Hards of 
English politics are no less honourably true to a faith 
than the Vengeances from the Clyde. But given the 
admittedly rare virtue of personal fearlessness, this 
kind of fanaticism, whatever its purpose, is a far less 
majestic thing in charader than the tenacity with 
which the really heroic men of the world have pur- 
sued a moderate course, refusing to be intimidated by 
furies on either side of them. 

And of the great moderates in history (one might, 
perhaps, call them moderators) none is greater than 
Lincoln. His fixed aim from the first in the war was 
to preserve the Union ; at a later stage, after long med- 
itation, he further declared for abolition, with reason- 
able terms of compensation. From these two pur- 
poses nothing could seduce him, but he would at no 
time allow his intentions to be complicated by the 
demands of extremists in any party. He was deaf alike 
to the Vindidives and the Pacifists, who in their dif- 
ferent ways were trying to stampede him. The Vin- 
didives were all for destroying the South by the im- 
position of extreme political and material penalties. 

Lincoln would have none of it. Let the South come 
back to the Union, and let it admit that the institu- 
tion of slavery had been discredited, and the old rela- 
tions should be renewed as though the war had never 
happened. Towards the Pacifists he was equally firm. 
No man was ever more pacific in nature than Lincoln 
himself, but no appeals to his almost agonisingly sen- 
sitive humanity could weaken his resolve until the 
integrity of the Union had been established, as he 
hoped, beyond the possibility of further attack. 


The other characteristic of which we speak is Lin- 
coln's loneliness of mind, a theme worthy of the 
Greek tragedians. In administrative affairs he was 
anxious, even at times unduly anxious, for advice, 
and in the routine of office he could sometimes be a 
little careless in the choice of deputies. But in the for- 
mation of principles he consulted nobody. When a 
decision involving fundamental principle had to be 
made, the period of Lincoln's speculation would be 
a long one, and while it lasted his most intimate as- 
sociates could tell nothing of what he was thinking. 
Then suddenly his intentions would be stated in un- 
equivocal terms, and that was an end of the matter. 
This gave easy play to detra&ors, and the opportuni- 
ties were freely and not always scrupulously taken. 


But Lincoln's justification was that his conclusions 
truly were founded upon principles, and that his in- 
tellectual understanding of principles was, in the 
sphere of adtion, the finest in the country. It is a justi- 
fication that has now made a noble and durable im- 
pression upon mankind, and America has given a 
hero to the world. 


It is sometimes said that Lincoln's story would 
have been less memorable had it not been so sudden- 
ly and so violently closed. Such surmise profits no- 
body. There is no reason to suppose that had he lived 
Lincoln would not have brought to reconstruction 
the strong and lovely qualities that he had exercised 
in war. History rightly takes no note of events that 
were and must remain unborn. And the imagination 
of men, fixed on reality, disregards them also. Our 
delight in the story of our race is not to wonder aim- 
lessly what might have been, but to realise the true 
significance of what was. To the story of Lincoln we 
could wish to add nothing, since nothing could en- 
rich or dignify it; and that something of its splendour 
might have been lost in other circumstances does not 
trouble our delight. 

Eight hundred copies of The World's Lincoln by 
John Drinkwater has been set in August, 1927, by 
Bertha M. Goudy at the Village Press, Marlborough- 
on-Hudson, N. Y., in types designed by Frederic W. 
Goudy. Presswork & binding at the Printing House 
of William Edwin Rudge, Mount Vernon, N. Y.